Navajo Nation Court moves Naize case to peacemaking program

Case brought by Speaker Johnny Naize against members of Navajo Nation Council moved to peacemaking program, special prosecutor moving forward with complaints against five current and former council de

Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Johnny Naize signs legislation in his office. Photo/Rick Abasta

Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Johnny Naize signs legislation in his office. Photo/Rick Abasta

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Nation District Court has referred a case brought by Speaker Johnny Naize against 12 members of the Navajo Nation Council and a legislative worker to the nation's peacemaking program.

Window Rock District Judge Carol Perry issued the order on May 7 after hearing that both parties expressed a desire to pursue the matter in a non-legal forum. The peacemaking process is the Diné traditional method of dispute resolution and its goal is to promote harmony consistent with Navajo Nation statutes.

In the order, Perry said "that a restoration of healthy relationships is in the best interest of our government and the people."

Naize's attorney sent a letter to the court stating Naize wanted "to make a good faith effort to talk out their differences in accordance with Navajo tradition."

Speaker Pro Tem LoRenzo Bates said he respected the action by the court.

"This action provides the council with guidance and direction to consider," Bates said, adding that the Navajo Nation Council continues to function effectively to serve Diné citizens and to carry out the duties and responsibilities of the government.

The court will stay any proceedings on this case until May 31 or until it receives notice from the peacemaking program regarding the outcome of the court's referral.

Special prosecutor

The special prosecutor has filed a request with the Window Rock District Court to have a single trial for the criminal complaints against five former and current council delegates. The five are charged with bribery stemming from alleged abuses of the discretionary fund, which was put in place to help needy members of the Navajo Nation.

The special prosecutor has asked the court to try Johnny Naize, George Arthur, Leonard Teller, David Tom and Ernest Yazzie at a single trial. The motion described how a single trial will save both time and money and protect witnesses who are assisting the Navajo Nation from having to testify at multiple trials.

According to the motion filed by the special prosecutor, the prosecutor alleges that "each of the five in the group had an unlawful arrangement with one or more of the other five to exchange thousands of dollars in financial assistance funds to benefit their own friends and relatives."

The special prosecutor said that many current and former delegates have come forward to assist the Navajo Nation in the prosecutions by testifying truthfully about their own exchanges with one or more of the five.

"By grouping these five defendants, these witnesses would only be required to testify once instead of making multiple appearances in separate trials," the motion stated. "...combining the five for one trial would save tens of thousands of dollars in court expenses, jury and prosecutor fees."

The special prosecutor seeks to join for trial the alleged bribes exchanged between Tom and Yazzie, bribes exchanged between Naize and Arthur, bribes exchanged between Naize and Teller and bribes exchanged between Naize and Tom.

The motion lists three former elected officials who are providing assistance to the Navajo Nation by describing their own financial assistance exchanges with one or more of the group of five.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court previously approved the practice of holding one trial for defendants when it considered similar bribery charges against elected officials, according to the special prosecutors.

The prosecutors indicated they will soon propose additional groupings for remaining defendants who are also facing bribery charges.

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